Shoving Can Be Good
Epiphany. The word means showing. When Jesus showed us who he was. Like the pulling back of a veil, the moment the curtain opens, a tear in the fabric of reality when the Son of God lets us know that he is real. He is alive.
The first Epiphany that we celebrate in the season of Epiphany is the Baptism of Jesus. That was last Sunday. Today we celebrate Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John, the changing of water into wine.
The strange thing about this first miracle is that it was totally spontaneous. You would think that the Son of God might have a plan to unveil his ministry, a strategic plan. Or at least a first step. But no, Jesus begins his miracles at a wedding, at a party, when his mother pesters him.
The relationship that Jesus has with his mother in the Gospel of John is very different from the relationship that he has with his mother in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the other three gospels, Mary seems determined to stop Jesus in his tracks and to bring him back home. In the Gospel of Mark, Mary claims that Jesus is possessed and must come back home. He is not acting himself! He is out of his mind, she claims.
But in John’s gospel, Mary is not trying to stop Jesus and bring him home. In fact, in John, Mary is doing the exact opposite. She is trying to activate her son’s ministry. Mary is challenging Jesus to get started.
“They have no wine,” she says to him. And you know that she must have given him that look that only mothers can give, the look of “you’d better do what I say.” And here they were, in the middle of a party. And Jesus’ disciples are with him.
Was he embarrassed? Angry? Annoyed? Something was wrong. Jesus’ response is curt and unfriendly at best. “Woman,” he says. “What have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
Woman. People addressed women that way. It was not considered rude. Jesus would later address the woman at the well in the same way. But he is clear with his mother that this is not the time. And he sounds firm.
But she doesn’t listen to his protests. Instead, she instructs the servants to follow his orders.
And Jesus performs his first miracle because his mother would not leave him alone.
What is your most challenging relationship right now? Sometimes, miracles come when we confront the most difficult people. Challenging relationships- they can be exactly what God wants for us.
In the late 1870’s there was a doctor living in Paris. His name was Stephane Tarnier and he was an obstetrician, he delivered babies. He worked in a hospital for some of the city’s poorest women. And he saw their agony when their babies died. 66% of low-weight babies died in his hospital. 66%. Being born early was close to a death sentence.
Tarnier could have gone to another hospital. He could have escaped the pain. But he didn’t. He looked into the faces of the mothers in agony and realized that he had to do better. They were asking him to help them. One mother in particular looked at him and begged him to help her baby. Desperate for an idea, he went wandering through a zoo. There he stumbled upon chicken incubators, there to help the eggs hatch. In that moment of challenge and grief and frustration and even agony, Tarnier had an idea. An idea that would save the lives of millions of babies to this day. The incubator. It was already being used on chickens but no one had connected the dots. So simple. Such a miracle.
How random that Jesus would make wine for his first miracle. No one was starving. No one was sick and in pain. No great humanitarian need. Just a newly-wed couple trying to celebrate their love. And a mother challenging him.
When I was in college, I traveled to Russia to research the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. But there was just one problem, I was too scared to talk to a priest. Most of them didn’t speak to women about worship. I was not only a woman, I was a foreigner. Who would talk to me? So I wandered into churches day after day not daring to strike up a conversation with a priest. Until one day, I brought a friend from college with me. He too was studying in Russia that summer. He knew my dilemma, how I was stuck. He stood there with me in the church after the service as I watched the priest greet people. I was hanging back. So my friend shoved me.
It made me really mad. He came up behind me and pushed me. Arrg! I could have turned around and hit him. But his shove also humiliated me, just a bit. I knew he was challenging me. And I took that anger and walked over to the priest, to establish one of the most formative relationships of my life.
We always think that the most successful relationships are the peaceful ones, the loving ones, the supportive ones. But what if God works best when we are with people who shove us, make us mad and even annoy us? Maybe the ones who make us uncomfortable, maybe those are the people we should make sure that we meet.
Jesus changes water into wine and launches his ministry. All because his mother would not take no for an answer. Who shoves you? Who pushes your buttons? Who holds you accountable and tells you the truth? Love does not sit by and allow the other to just be comfortable, not when the world is so broken and we have so much to do. Love challenges. Love makes you move and grow and reach out for something that you did not know that you could attain. Love does not wait for you to like that other person. If they truly love you, they will be willing for you to dislike them or even never want to see them again. If someone truly loves you, they will challenge you. They will ask something of you. They will not rest until you grow.
Epiphany. God is showing you something right now. It has to do with the challenge of being in relationship. When someone shoves you, maybe the best response is Thank You.
- The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead